Vitamin Me

Vitamins. They’re cheap insurance against so-so diet & lifestyle choices. Vitamin E, in particular, is known to be a very powerful, anti-aging, cancer-fighting, heart-protecting antioxidant, so Dede & I have always been diligent about taking that supplement.

But I’d never thought much about the source of the vitamins we take, just focusing instead on faithfully taking them every day. Then last week, I read that while the natural vs. synthetic forms of most vitamins are usually chemically identical, Vitamin E is quite different. Maybe I’ve been hanging around pharmacists too much, but this really picqued my interest so I dug in and read a lot more. I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned:

“Vitamin E” is the collective term for a family of eight compounds: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, & delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma & delta.) Tocopherols are the most studied components of Vitamin E as they have the highest bioavailability.
vitamin e capsule
Our bodies have specific binding & transport proteins for using natural, food-based Vitamin E and largely ignores all other forms. Okay wait, that bears repeating: your liver actually works to rid itself of synthetic Vitamin E as quickly as possible! In effect, synthetic Vitamin E is all but worthless.

What’s more, I discovered that synthetic Vitamin E is derived from petrochemicals (via an unholy-sounding chemical reaction between TMHQ with isophytol) and includes BHA and BHT, nasty petroleum-based preservatives which are believed to be carcinogenic. (These are also found in lots of highly-processed foods like snacks & packaged baked goods, all the more reason to avoid those whenever possible.)

So, natural Vitamin E is 3-4 times more efficient and is the only form you should take!

But how do you know what you’re buying?

It’s easy to determine which type you’re getting once you know what to look for: natural forms of Vitamin E have d- before the compound name (for example d-alpha tocopherol) and synthetic forms are labeled with a dl- prefix.

Some practical tips gleaned from the head-scratching scientific hooey I read:

  • Even with the natural forms of Vitamin E, many capsules supply only the alpha compound but studies indicate that a “mixed” formulation that includes the other three types of tocopherols is far more effective.
  • If you take both Vitamin E and iron supplements, take them at different times of the day. Also, inorganic forms of iron (such as ferrous sulfate) destroy Vitamin E but organic iron (ferrous gluconate or ferrous fumarate) leaves Vitamin E intact.
  • Taken on an empty stomach, Vitamin E’s absorption is reduced by an average of 50%, so this supplement is best taken with some food.
  • To get more of this vital vitamin via the food you eat, go for leafy green vegetables, tuna, almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, sweet potatoes, kiwi, tomatoes, peaches, and grapes.